Sunday, August 19, 2012

VVS Laxman: The batsman who confused sport with art!

Just a week ago, Yuvraj's return to international cricket grabbed headlines and he was welcomed all over. Today, Laxman leaves the international stage and he deserves an equally emphatic farewell. The announcement has come just a few days ahead of the India-New Zealand test series. He said he did not want to be in the way of youngsters getting a chance to play at the highest level. And that shows his great care and commitment to the Indian cricket team. Laxman has been an integral part of the Indian test team that peaked to the number one position. He was part of a formidable batting line up that gave many a headache to rival bowlers. In fact, Laxman is more feared by Australians than any other batsman. He has, time and again, proved to be a thorn in their flesh.

Laxman's specialty has always been his elegance. The dexterity of his wrists has come to evoke great appreciation from the connoisseurs of the game. The effortless strokes he played almost bordered on laziness. On a difficult pitch, while most batsmen struggle hard to get the ball away, Laxman would walk in and find gaps like a wizard. He made batting look ridiculously easy. While others batted, he strolled in a park. And it is no coincidence that he is seen in the lineage of Gundappa Viswanath and Mohammed Azharuddhin who were masters of elegant play. His delectable strokes have pleased many a spectator and commentator who chuckle admiringly when he pierces the ball through the off-side with surgical precision. As one from a family of doctors, it is no surprise that he could display his familial skills on the cricket field.
What sets Laxman apart from the rest of the batsmen is that he can be watched with no context at all. He can simply be admired in isolation. No need to know the score or the number of wickets fallen. No need to know the required number of runs to win that game. If Laxman is batting, one can simply watch. He is, for that moment, the spectacle. It is with batsmen like these that few sporting scholars have shaken the fundamentals of art as a discipline. Sport should be considered an art since Laxman plays cricket. It seems as valid an argument that says painting should be considered an art since Michelangelo paints. It is very rare that one gets to see a great painter in the process of painting, but Laxman has given us that pleasure over the years. He seemed to have confused sport with art.

VVS Laxman has been short-changed often as he was never viewed as the aggressive kind. But his opponents know the truth. He is as tough as any when he decides to step on the pedal. It's just that he does not carry the aggression in his demeanor. The famous Kolkota 281 against the Aussies that redirected the path of Indian test cricket is an example of his gritty competitive spirit. But the tougher spirit in Laxman has come to the fore when he scored those match-winning 60's and 70's partnering the tail-enders. All other great batsmen can be commended no end for their big scores. But with Laxman, his greatest achievements are winning test matches for India while batting with the tail. Ishant Sharma could win us a test with a solid innings if Laxman was at the other end. Mohali was a witness to that a couple of years ago.

The unceremonious manner he walks on to the field tricks us into expecting nothing but mundane. Rooted feet and a fishing rod for a bat, one may presume. In time, a couple of defensive strokes in the gaps beats the fielder to the ropes. You watch in awe if he had meant that ball to reach the fence as the stroke seemed only an extension of defence. And then they follow. One after the other. Fluency sets in. You suddenly see yourself as a frantic student taking notes from an eloquent professor. Only that no one remembers him speaking on the field except with his 'magic wand' that he uses for a bat.

And finally, he has spoken. No more cricket from Laxman. And that's a loss. Despite being the beautician who decorated the Indian batting with ornamental strokes, he wants to leave with no ceremony, no mid-field celebration. Just the way he bats. Calm, simple and unassuming. That's VVS Laxman. Very Very Special Laxman.

David Wesley for DieHard Cricket Fans

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